Karamu’s ‘The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin’ is frothy fun
Karamu House (home to the nation’s longest performing Black theater) under the leadership of Tony F. Sias has found yet another intriguing vehicle that is topical yet light, pertinent yet fascinating, timely yet entertaining. The show is “The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin” by Kristen Childes and Directed by Nina Domingue.
It is the story that follows Viveca, aka Bubbly (Kennedi Hobbs) through her life from the 60s into the 90s. Viveca lives in sunny southern California and is black. A situation that she is not entirely happy with. She has a white doll, Chitty Chatty (Claudia Cromley) with whom she shares her deepest secrets and desires. Along with wishing to be white, Viveca dreams of being a world renowned dancer.
She follows that dancing dream through early classes at Mrs. Pain’s Dance Studio, through high school (where she hangs with the white crowd while the Blacks call her an Oreo) and into New York City where after years of working menial jobs and being professionally unnoticed manages to score an audition for a Broadway show. This is all during a time of tremendous racial upheaval across the country.
Along this journey of development a cast of eleven actors take on the roles of forty-six characters with numerous costume changes appropriate to the various time periods. The cast consists of Dayshawnda Ash (Granny/Harriet/Secretary/Hippie Flower Child/Mommy), Mell-Vonti Bowens (Lucas/Daddy 3/ Jazz Teacher/Wonderland Chorus). Claudia Cromley (Chitty Chatty1/ Leslie/Tallulah/Secretary), Jailyn Sherrell Harris (Viveca’s Mommy/Yolanda/Secretary/Ballet Teacher), Jaren Hodgson (Director Bob/Prince/Cosmic Rainbow/Police Officer), Amaya Kiyomi (Emily/Secretary/Hippy Flower Child/Mommy), Joshua McElroy (Keith/Larry/Daddy 4/Rakeem Zimbabwe/Hippy Flower Child), Mary-Francis R. Miller (Chitty Chatty 2/Emily/Hippy Flower Child/Secretary/Mommy 5), Avery LaMar Pope (Gregory/Daddy 2/Wonderland Chorus), Corin B. Self (Viveca’s Daddy/Policman2/Angry Neighbor/Wonderland Chorus), Sydney Smith (Miss Pain/Secretary/Wonderland Chorus/Mommy 2).
The top notch orchestra is made up of Edward Ridley Jr. (Conductor/Keyboard), Gayle Getts (Flute), Nikki Charise Grimes (Bass), Bill Ransom (Drums/Percussion) and Dr. David M. Thomas (Keyboard II).
Auri Crawley handles the Sound Engineer duties with Devin Whitehouse on Lights. Justine Schneider is the Scenic Artist assisted by Payton Nielson. Akilah Marie Y. Marshal is the Dresser. Shauntinque Isom is in charge of the video projections that add much to the story.
Stand out performers for this production include (of course) Kennedi Hobbs as Bubbly who truly is effervescent in the roll. Dayshawnda Ash as Granny who does an amazingly funny “Granny’s Advice” number and Joshua McElroy as Keith/Larry/Daddy 4/ Rakeem Zimbabwe/Hippie Flower Child.
This coming of age story of a young black girl discovering her true self is an inspiring tale that young Black youngsters should be exposed to. They and their parents will be able to relate to the nuances of chasing one’s dreams and finding one’s own identity. This is well worth the effort to go see.
Karamu’s “The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin” will be on stage in the Cleveland Foundation Jelliffe Theatre, 2355 East 89th Street, Cleveland, Ohio through May 14, 2023. For more information and tickets go to https://karamuhouse.org/ or call (216) 795-7070.